Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati: Pioneer of education and emancipation of women
Born on April 23, 1858 in a Marathi speaking Brahmin family, Rama Dongre was the daughter of Anant Shastri Dongre, Sanskrit scholar and roving reciter of Hindu epics and religious books. Her parents died during the Great Famine of 1876-78 when she was 16. She and her brother, Srinivas, continued the family tradition of reciting religious texts.
Rama Dongre joined the reformist body Brahmo Samaj which opposed the deeply entrenched caste system. Her brother passed away in June 1880. During the same year, she married Bipin Behari Medhvi, a Bengali lawyer. In deciding to marry Medhvi, who belonged to the socially ostracised lower caste she did not allow considerations of her own high caste to come in the way. The couple’s only child, Manorama, was born in 1881. Less than a year later, her husband died of cholera.
Gradually, she became famous as a lecturer of Sanskrit texts. She visited Calcutta on an invitation from the Pandits or religious scholars to speak. In 1878, the Calcutta University conferred on her the titles of Pandita and Sarasvati, acknowledging her knowledge of Sanskrit works.
Arya Mahila Samaj
After her husband’s death, Ramabai, who was 23, moved to Pune and founded Arya Mahila Samaj to promote the education of women and their deliverance from the oppression of child marriage. In 1882, when the then Government of India appointed a committee to examine the education sector, Ramabai suggested that teachers be trained, women school inspectors be appointed and Indian women be admitted to medical colleges.
In 1883, during a visit to England, she was baptised in Wantage, England. Ramabai went to Europe to pursue a medical degree, which could not be completed due to her battle against deafness.
She travelled to the United States in 1886 to attend the graduation of her relative and India’s first female Indian doctor, Anandibai Joshi. She stayed back for two years, translated textbooks and delivered lectures across the U.S. and Canada.
She published her first book in English, titled The High-Caste Hindu Woman. While giving presentations in the U.S. to seek support for her work in India, Ramabai met Frances Willard in 1887 who later invited her to address the convention of women’s organisation. During the year that followed, she returned to India as a national lecturer for the organisaton.
In 1896, during a severe famine, Ramabai toured the villages of Maharashtra with a caravan of bullock carts rescuing thousands of children, child widows, orphans and destitute women and brought them to the shelter of Mukti and Sharada Sadan. By 1900, there were 1,500 residents and over a hundred cattle in the Mukti mission. The Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission is still active today, providing housing, education, vocational training to widows, orphans and those with sight impairments.
By 1920, Ramabai sensed a growing physical weakness and designated her daughter to supervise the activities of Mukti Mission. Manorama, however, died in 1921. The development came as a severe shock to Ramabai who was herself suffering from septic bronchitis. Nine months later, she passed away on April 5, 1922, a few weeks before her 64th birthday.
After her husband, Bipin Behari Medhvi’s death, Ramabai educated her daughter, Manorama, on her own. Manorama completed BA at the Bombay University, pursued higher studies in the U.S., returned to India and became the Principal of Sharada Sadan, Mumbai. With her help, Pandita Ramabai established a school in Gulbarga (now in Karnataka) in 1912 and her daughter was the Principal of the school.
In an address to Lord Ripon’s Education Commission, she said, “In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the educated men of this country are opposed to female education and the proper position of women. If they observe the slightest fault, they magnify the grain of mustard-seed into a mountain, and try to ruin the character of a woman.” This led Lord Dufferin to start the Women’s Medical Movement.
In her book titled The High Caste Hindu Woman, published in 1887, Ramabai highlighted social evils of the time such as child marriage, the plight of child widows and the oppression of women in British India.
SOURCE: bu.edu, Wikipedia